Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Lou Holtz and the Christmas Miracle

I was at Wally and Snap’s house a couple of weeks ago waiting for my kids to get their shoes on or something. Wally was watching college basketball, which usually causes my eyes to roll back in my head and my legs to crumple with boredom. It was soon halftime and who should appear? This little old man who proceeded to deliver a locker room speech to the team that was behind.

At first, I thought, how annoying is this. I mean why would anyone want to hear a locker room dressing down? Certainly, the people who could benefit most, i.e. the losing team, would be occupied by the rantings of their own coach. Wally and I continued to small talk, but it began to trail off as we both became captivated by this little firecracker of a gnome. Some of what he was saying was chock full of sports cliché, but what he was saying was right on the money. It made me want to go out there and be a better part of the team and I couldn’t care less about basketball, college or otherwise.

And then he captured my heart forever with his closing line to the losing team. He said directly to the TV, “Just remember: The only thing between Chump and Champ is yoU!” and he pointed right at us. Wally and I both stepped back in astonishment, looked at each other and laughed, amazed.

“That was awesome! Who is that guy?” I asked.

“That’s Lou Holtz, the greatest coach ever and a phenomenal motivational speaker,” he explained.

“Oh my God, that was a great line!” I said, always looking for new gems of wisdom in small packages. “I’m going to have to remember that one!”

“I know! I’m going to post that line on my door at work,” he said.

Wally’s works in sales. He’s a huge Notre Dame fan and a former linebacker. It’s funny that we are such good friends because Wally is not the kind of person I’m usually drawn to when looking to make friends. He’s loud. He’s conservative. He hunts. He’s very masculine. He’s got a healthy ego. When I first met him, he made a crack about how Doc, who was a stay-at-home dad at the time, had found his “sugar mama.” I was offended immediately.

But one summer evening, Wally, Snap, Frank, Doc, John, Michelle and Mark were hanging out at the Tiki. I was talking with Michelle, but I kept catching snatches of Wally’s conversation. I heard keywords, like: Jacksonville, Uniontown, pageant dresses, Tammy, website…

Michelle and I had wound things up and I turned to Wally and said, “Did you say you were from Uniontown and you have a friend in Jacksonville? I have friends down there too, who are from Uniontown.”

“Yeah, my sister and her family live there. She makes pageant dresses and I helped her set up a website to start selling them,” he replied.

“Do you know someone named Tammy…I can’t think of her last name…she’s from Uniontown and lives in Jacksonville…maybe her last name was Jones?” I said, racking my brain for her maiden name.

“Was her last name Banks?” he asked.

“That’s it!” I said, pointing at him.

“Dude,” he replied, “That’s my sister!”

“Oh my God!” I said, “I dated her husband, Hot Lemon!”

“No way!” he said.

“Yes!” I said.

We both got goose bumps and marveled at how small the world is. Suddenly we had a lot in common and a lot to discuss. Ever since then we’ve been super awesome buddies.

But I digress…

Shortly after I was introduced to the amazing Lou Holtz, through Chris and ESPN-8, The Ocho, I learned that I was Wally’s Secret Santa for the Tiki Christmas party. Awesome, I thought. I can’t give up the word awesome. I have tried to eradicate it from my vocabulary numerous times, with no success. It’s more addictive than heroin, I presume, having never had heroin, but I see movies…I know how it works. I wouldn’t dive down a nasty toilet to retrieve “awesome” but, I can’t seem to give it up.

I planned my trip to Borders to pick up the book, Wins, Losses, and Lessons, Lou Holtz’s autobiography. I wasn’t able to get to get there until the night of the party. I stopped first at Old Navy and bought myself some metallic jeans, which are awesome, and some fleece tops so I could have something special to wear to the party. To me, metallic jeans = special. I was listening to my iPod so I didn’t have to hear one Christmas song. I was by myself and Christmas shopping…it was heaven.

I made my way down to Borders and opened the door for my fellow shoppers. I stepped inside to a hive of activity. As usual, I must stop and take things in when I find myself in a store. I need to orient myself, go over my list mentally, take a deep breath, swear I won’t by anything off the list, and let the anxiety rise and lift out of the top of my head. As I scanned the horizon, I saw the sports section and made my way over to the football shelf.

The books were supposedly alphabetically by author and I wasn’t having any luck finding it. Besides, this older gentleman was standing in front of my scanning the shelves himself. Annoyed, I made the short trip over to the customer service desk, where a Santa-hatted youth was standing trying to look busy.

I asked her for help and she led me right back to where I was. That guy was still there too. Finally she spoke into her headset and inquired if there were any of Lou’s books out on any of the display tables. I don’t think her headset actually worked, it’s window dressing for seasonal help to make them look like they can really help you.

Eventually I gave up waiting for her to contact someone who gave a crap and said, “Well, maybe I’ll find something else.”

“Do you want me to order it for you?” she asked

“No,” I replied, “I need it for tonight.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t find it,” she said.

“It’s OK,” I’m sure I’ll find something else.

My guts sank. Wally and I are friends, yes. But we are vastly different individuals. We really have very little in common other than our weird arrangement of family and friend connections. I had a sure-fire gift idea and it fizzled out like a wet bottle rocket. Damn. I started to make my way over to the music section, where I intended to by a CD for Doc’s Secret Santa gift, when the older gentleman stopped me.

“Hey,” he said, bemused, “I’m looking for that book too!”

“Really?” I said, finally realizing why he was in my way.

“I’m going to go look over in business and management for it,” he said, determined.

I followed him over there and we had no luck. Who knew this was such a popular book? We shared stories about who we were buying the gift for. He groused that he came all the way up here from New Philly to come up with nothing. We wished each other luck and went our separate ways.

I went over to the music section and found what I was looking for no problem for Doc’s Secret Santa, of course. I began to feel a bit disgruntled. I looked at the games, the CD’s. Nothing was striking a chord with me. I was attached to finding that book for Wally. It represented one of the few moments where our differences disappeared and we enjoyed a common moment. Damn.

It was getting late and my stress level began to rise. I started scanning everything and anything. Cook books, no…investment strategies…no…ya-ya sisterhood of the traveling pants…no. And there it was: Lou Holtz’s miniature face looking up from me from some random table. One copy of Wins, Losses, and Lessons! “It’s mine, mine, all mine!” I thought to myself as I snatched it off the table and tucked it in my arm. Giddy with the joy of finding a needle in a fucking haystack, I made my way toward the cash register. I passed by the business section and saw a nice add-on for Wally’s gift: A desk set containing a pen, paper clip and something else, that all fit together as a shiny airplane. It was really cool and I was done shopping.

“Excuse me, miss?” someone said.

I looked up to see New Philly walking briskly toward me with something in his hand.

“I found it!” he exclaimed, joyful, “Would you like to have it?”

I wilted inside, overwhelmed by his generosity and ashamed of my Daffy Duck reaction to finding what I thought was the last copy. No way was I handing mine over.

“Oh, no thank you,” I said, reaching for my copy, “I found it too! See?”

“Oh that’s great,” he said, “I knew you were looking for it and I was going to give you this one.”

“Well, now we can each have a copy,” I said, “It’s a Christmas Miracle!”

“Yes it is,” he said.

“Merry Christmas,” I said.

“You too,” he said.

We smiled at each other and went our separate ways. I made my way to the cash register warm with the Christmas Spirit.

Thank you, Lou Holtz, for joining friends and strangers together as teammates and causing one of many Christmas Miracles this season and beyond. To paraphrase you, Lou, It is a fine thing to have Christmas Spirit, but the ability to discover Christmas Spirit in others is the true gift.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hmmm... finding ONE book amongst 20,000 is more like finding a needle in a needlestack.

    As noted, I find the "chump" saying particularly UNinspiring, but I've always been a curmudgeon, and curmudgeons are particularly invulunerable to motivational speakers. In fact, we react to them the way Kingons react to tribbles.

    Actually, I think I'm jealous-- I can't remember th' last time I got to brouse in a bookstore.

  3. That is a much nicer Christmas story than two overweight women beating each other senseless over the last Wii for their kid.

  4. And by the way, Lou is not the best coach ever, that belongs to Knute Rockne.

  5. I believe that Lou, just like Bill Parcels, has a psych degree. They've been doing his little motivational speeches on College Gameday all this season and sometimes he really does make you want to charge through a brick wall...once you can understand what he is beyond his lisp when he gets into spit mode.

  6. This makes me want to do a Lonney Toons version of Trainspotting with Daffy Duck as Spud. Unfortunately the only joke there is him opening the bus station locker at the end and having the Daffy Duck reaction you alluded to. I could flesh it out with some Hollywood dreck and a cameo for Michael Jordan, but would it really be worth the trouble?

  7. Great story. It's a small small world. Especially so in the midwest.

  8. Great post! Your inclusion of Daffy Duck gave it that extra oomph. He's my hero, y'know.